Buying a holiday home in Bulgaria

This is not an exhaustive buying guide but rather the story of our journey in purchasing a property in Bulgaria.

It was early 2006 when we decided we would like to own a property overseas again having sold our previous one in Spain in 1999. The question was where to buy and what we could afford. We set out our criteria. It had to be less than 4 hours flying time from the UK, have good weather from spring to autumn, 2 bedrooms and be near to the sea. We also ruled out buying ‘Off Plan’ as we did not want any major risk involved. Prices in Western Europe had rocketed so that was out of the question. We spoke with our son who works in the property market and he suggested we look at Bulgaria as it was the ‘New Kid on the Block’ and he thought it would fit our requirements.

To us Bulgaria was a country that was situated in Eastern Europe and you sometimes heard about it on the news. First job was to carry out some internet research which revealed there were 2 main holiday destinations on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, Sunny Beach in the south and Golden Sands in the north. On checking the nearest airports to these locations I found that both seemed to be served exclusively by the holiday charter airlines plus British Airways flying into Varna for Golden Sands and Wizz Air flying into Bourgas for Sunny Beach. The internet contains a wealth of information so make use of it.

Next was to check out agents selling property in Bulgaria and to obtain as much information from them as possible. The first companies that I contacted were not very helpful and were basically saying ‘Do you want to buy or not?’ However I finally contacted a company based in the West of England who were most helpful and willingly supplied me with all the information that I asked for without any ‘Hard Sell’.

Having carried out all possible enquiries in the UK it was now time to visit the country and see what it was like for ourselves. We therefore booked a week’s holiday at the northern resort of Golden Sands.

Email contact was then made with estate agents in the Varna area. Having given them our requirements we arranged to view properties whilst there.

I then became aware of the Property Exhibition that was to be held in London and decided to attend. To my pleasant surprise the company that had been so helpful to me on the telephone were exhibiting there. I approached their stand and met with a very helpful gentleman who it turned out was one of the directors. He explained that they only sold property in the southern part of Bulgaria as he considered it the better area to buy. I explained that we were going on holiday to Golden Sands whereupon he offered to have my wife and I collected from our hotel and take us to the Sunny Beach area where we would be shown the property they were selling. He also pointed out that even if we saw a property we liked we would not be allowed to put a deposit on it until we had been back in the UK for at least 5 days. I liked this approach as there was no pressure, no hard sell. I then checked out these British agents on the internet but could not find any bad reports about them. The following day I telephoned them and agreed to the offer. I later received a telephone call from them giving details of the collection etc.

We duly arrived in Golden Sands and have to say we were very impressed with the resort. Miles of clean golden sands with restaurants, bars etc. We spent our first 2 days with local estate agents looking at various properties in the area but whilst some of them were quite appealing there was nothing that had that ‘This is it’ factor.

The following Tuesday morning we were collected for our trip to Sunny Beach in a very nice sign written Mercedes Vito by a young man who introduced himself as Jorden, the sales manager. He spoke perfect English which was a blessing as we did not speak Bulgarian. The drive to Sunny Beach took about 2 hours but the time soon passed as it gave us an opportunity to see the real Bulgaria. As we travelled south the landscape changed from forests and hills to a flatter landscape of fields and vine yards. Finally we drove over the Balkan Mountains which at this point are no more than very high hills and there spread out before us was Sunny Beach and  the surrounding area glistening in the late morning sun. Although it was late September the Vito’s thermometer was showing an outside temperature of 27c.

Our first stop was at St. Vlas. A very swish area with its own yacht marina to the north of Sunny Beach. We looked at several apartments which whilst appearing to have been built to a high standard did not really appeal as they were built on slopes.  As we were nearing retirement we had to take into account how we would manage the slopes perhaps in 10 years time. Also we have a disabled grand daughter and envisaged the difficulty the slopes would prove with her wheel chair.

We then travelled to the area south of Sunny Beach known as Cacao Beach.  We here looked at several apartments and it was at the last complex we visited my wife said ‘This is it’.

We were in a 3rd floor apartment which was bright and airy in a small complex on a level surface about 300 metres from the sea.

The complex consisted of 2 blocks each 5 levels high and a swimming pool and pool bar in between the blocks. It featured a reasonably large sun bathing area and gardens with small fir trees and rose bushes. The apartment measured 90 sq. metres consisting of a large lounge with American kitchen area connected to a balcony with views of the Hadzhiyska River and Balkan Mountains, bathroom with shower, toilet and hand basin, separate 2nd toilet, large hallway and 2 double size bedrooms both leading onto a balcony with sea views. Although it was unfurnished we could see the potential. The asking price was 72,000 Euro’s. Maintenance was 350 Euros a year. This was to cover the cost of lifts, swimming pool, maintenance of the communal areas and the salaries of the complex manager, handy man, cleaners and 24 hour/365 day security.

It is worth mentioning that whilst Bulgaria has its own currency, the Lev, the Euro is used for buying property and for paying various other fees and bills. The Lev is aligned to the Euro at 1.96 Lev to the Euro.

We now believed that we had found what we were looking for.

Jorden then drove us to the beach which is 8 kilometres of clean golden sand.

The area was well serviced with restaurants, shops, supermarkets and some bars. He also reminded us that we could not do anything until we had been back in the UK for 5 days and then drove us back to our hotel in Golden Sands.

On returning to the UK we viewed the video and looked at the photo’s we had taken over and over again before making a final decision. Finally we decided to proceed.

When the 5 days had passed we contacted the British agents and made further enquiries of them as to the procedure etc. Over the next few days we received details in writing of the buying process. They explained in detail the procedure as to lawyers etc. They also confirmed that the asking price included the cost of lawyers, taxes, interpreters etc. They also provided details of companies who would be prepared to do the fitting out of the apartment.

After further discussions we decided to go ahead with the purchase. I contacted the agents to inform them of our decision and then paid a £500 deposit made payable to them. About 8 weeks later the balance of the cost was sent by International Transfer to the account of the British agents in Bulgaria.

An appointment was then made for my wife and I to return to Bulgaria to sign the various transfer documents and legal papers. So far everything was going very smoothly as promised. Indeed we couldn’t believe how well things were progressing.

I then contacted a British company who were advertising an apartment fitting service and who were on the selling agents list. They had a very good internet site which offered a very great selection of goods. We spent a considerable amount of time selecting how we wanted the apartment kitted out.

Finally we chose to have all the wood in the lounge and kitchen area in light oak with the 3 piece suite and dining chairs seat and back in oatmeal coloured tweed.

The bedrooms were to be done in light cherry wood. Our idea was to keep the apartment looking bright and did not want colours that might fade in the sun. We decided on Venetian style blinds at the windows. However if I were doing this again I would employ a local Bulgarian firm to carry out the work. It would be a lot cheaper and you would have the advantage of being able to see the items in reality before buying instead of an internet picture. There are numerous outlets in Bourgas just as there are in any other large town.

It was March 2007 when we flew to Bulgaria to sign the documents. We flew into Varna airport as at that time Bourgas did not open for international flights during the winter. This has since changed. We were met by the British agents’ representative, a young man called Milcho, who drove us to a very nice hotel in Nessebar, a beautiful little town 3 kilometres south of our apartment. The weather whilst sunny during the day was bitterly cold at night. The following day we were collected by Milcho and taken to the offices of the lawyer/notary who was going to certify the transaction. At his office we met the interpreter together with the representative for the complex builders. The whole transaction took about 20 minutes and was fully explained by the interpreter. We were given copies of the signed documents and the interpreter had a copy from which she would make copies in English for us. The originals were sent to the Bulgarian Land Registry for registration and stamping and then sent to me in England via the agents. These were received about a month later.

Later that afternoon we attended the apartment where we met with the complex manager. We were very happy to find that he spoke very good English. We then travelled to the agents Bulgarian offices where we completed documents for the Bulstat which is the equivalent of local council tax and paid the registration fee for the issue of the official Bulstat Card. This is a plastic card similar size to a credit card which also acts a form of identity card and shows that you are a property owner.. We also completed the documentation for the complex maintenance and paid 350 Euro’s for the first year. To say the least we were surprised at how smoothly everything was still going. The British agents were superb and had guided us through all the procedures with the ease that had been promised.

The only problems we encountered were with the company that fitted out the apartment. The fitting was running 3 months behind schedule and pressure of work was given as the reason for the delay. When we took our first holiday in the apartment in June 2007 things had not been completed. On arrival the apartment had not been cleaned and there were no blinds at the windows. These were finally fitted some days after our arrival. Some of the furniture was marked and had to be replaced. The shower leaked and despite their ‘experts’ attending they could not cure the leak and concluded the wall tiles were porous!!! In exasperation together with another owner who used to be a plumber we took the shower out and soon found the problem. The base has not been sealed properly to the wall!!. Having fitted it properly it has not leaked since. Also the every day items of knives forks etc were of poor quality. The ironing board was an ideal size for children and the toaster got as hot on the outside as on the inside.

Since those early days we have spent many happy months in the apartment. Compared with Western Europe living in Bulgaria is very cheap. The Lev at the time of writing is worth about 45p. Council tax this has come been reduced for the 2nd year running to 144 Lev (about £70) a year for our apartment. Water and electricity are cheaper than the UK. We estimate that our apartment electricity and water costs about £6 a week and this includes using the air conditioners which are necessary during the summer. A decent 2 course meal with a bottle of local wine will cost between £14 and £16. A pint of lager can be purchased at a bar for between 45p and £1.10 depending on where you go. Food at supermarkets is about 1/3rd the cost of the UK. Local buses are 45p wherever you want to go and taxis £4.50 plus around the resort. However petrol is about the same price and second hand cars are expensive. Electrical goods are also expensive.

Property is still very cheap compared with the rest of Europe and the Black Sea Coast has in general suffered from over building. This has resulted in a glut of properties. 1 bed roomed apartments are still available form 30,000 Euro’s. Because of the recession some property developers have gone bankrupt resulting in properties only getting half built and many people who had invested ‘Off Plan’ losing their money.

The rules for buying in Bulgaria are the same as any other foreign country. First of all do as much research as possible. The internet is a great source of information. Visit the area and spend some time there. If you see a property you like, photograph and video it and then look at the photos and video in your own home when the excitement of the visit has worn off. Use a reputable agent to act for you. If they try the hard sell, walk away. If you do not speak the language use an interpreter. The cost is worthwhile. Follow the rules you would use if buying at home. Let the head rule the heart not the other way round.

Bulgaria is a beautiful country. Bordered by Romania in the north, Turkey and Greece to the south and Macedonia and Serbia to the west. The Black Sea coast line stretches 235 miles from Romania to Turkey. The country is dominated by mountains, forests and lakes with the exception of the south east area which is a plain covered in vine yards.

Bulgaria suffers from extremes of temperatures. Winters are very cold and temperatures in January/February can drop to -15c. Summers are very hot and in July/August they can reach over 40c. During the winter the resorts of Borovets, Pamporovo and Bansko situated south of Sofia the capital offer excellent skiing.

Having said all this, the question is, ‘Did we make the right decision?’ I think we did. Not everything is perfect. Arrange for a tradesman to call on Monday and he will probably turn up 2 days later. It’s like Spain 30 years ago. Everything is very laid back with a ‘Tomorrow will do’ attitude but we love it. The language is difficult to learn as it uses the Cyrillic Alphabet which bears very little resemblance to our own. Would we move here full time? No, but it’s a great place to spend long periods of time from April to the end of October.

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Alan Fairfax

Travel writer & cruise journalist

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